by steve | Feb 22, 2023 | CHURCH, Just Life, Kingdom Living
I’ve never been much of a high church guy. By High Church, I refer to Christian traditions which rely heavily on form, procedure, and religious rote for their corporate gathering and private lives of worship. We see this most clearly in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and some protestant traditions such as the Episcopalians. There is indeed an air of religious feel to the form, but in my arrogance, I have always assumed a void of life. The writing out of prayers and reading them to God felt like a suitor giving a formal and legal document to his sweetheart as a marriage proposal. No personal words or heart on fire. Just data. “Here is my proposition in detail; please sign on the bottom line if you agree to these terms.”
No, such a traditional experience was not for me, and I didn’t give the subject much thought. And then. Then? Then my wife, who is working through a hospital chaplain residency, told me that she was planning to observe the tradition of Lent with others at her hospital. This kicks off today with what is known as Ash Wednesday.
In short, Lent is from a Latin word meaning the 40 days before Easter when Christians observe special fasts and other rites. The significance of the 40 originates from the 40 days that Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness before launching into his public ministry. A solemn spirit of repentance also flows with directed fasting and prayer currents. The Ash traditionally is from the burning of palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Those most engaged celebrate by placing the form of a small cross, from the ash, on their forehead as a sign of their devotion and commitment to the process.
While I do not see myself ever diving fully into the deep end of this and similar traditions, it forces me to be quiet momentarily. In thinking practices, I am already engaged in some spiritual disciplines. For example, I am systematically reading my Bible and allocating time for prayer before I launch into anything else in my day. But in thinking about the principle of discipline in general, could more not hurt? The discipline of the musician and athlete distinguishes those who are serious from those just out for fun. The goal is for these rhythms to become second nature. While we want our inner lives to be passionate and constantly abiding with Christ, could more regular discipline help in this manner?
The reality is that while some have wrongly put their hope in the form instead of the Savior, to throw out all disciplines is a knee-jerk reaction on the other end of the pendulum swing. The improper use of something does not negate the proper use of it. I do not know the hearts and minds of others and their motives anyway. In truth, Jesus himself learned the Psalms of David and the words of the Pentateuch by rote as a child. So, there might be something here to take another look at.
Yes, my amazing Bride got me. Neither of us plans to convert to the High Church traditions. But what are we missing by snubbing something which does not fit into our paradigm, even if others may have abused the practice? Maybe there might also be some providence here when I consider that my heart has been circling the same half dozen verses over the past few weeks. Could this be a call of the Holy Spirit to slow down more and meditate on these texts at regular intervals of the day? Is formally setting aside specific times during the day a bad idea or something positive? Yes, probably the latter. So here we go. Lent of 2023 will no longer be a mere and mild passing joke about the lint found in the dryer but rather another pivotal moment drawing me closer to my Savior, which is where I want to be no matter how I get there.
What about you? Regarding Lent or any other practice that enlivens your walk with Jesus?
by steve | Oct 28, 2022 | Kingdom Living
As I stink at football, I don’t have many temptations to be an armchair quarterback. But sometimes, with self-assurance, I read the Bible and say, “I’d never do that.” When you think about it, the scriptures are full of examples of people doing dumb things and making horrible choices. Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge or simple rebellion. Others stumble because of weak faith in the face of tremendous pressure to reject God’s plan.
The other day I was thinking about Jeroboam, the first king of divided Israel after God split it away from Judah, which Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled. The inner cause of the kingdom’s breakup was the sin of Solomon in his later days of rule. So as God elevated Jeroboam to lead the northern kingdom of Israel, He made it clear that He would build an enduring dynasty for Jeroboam if he trusted and followed God.
Sounds excellent and straightforward. The problem arose when the king feared potential political ruin and attempted to fix things with his fleshly wisdom and strategy instead of trusting God.
The chronicler tells us that Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam, king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28). Rehoboam knew the promise of God, but when the pressure was on, he thought he could do a better job.
I want to think I would have acted differently than Jeroboam, that I would have trusted God and remained faithful. But I’m not so sure. The truth is that while I am often clear on God’s promises and the reality of His kingdom and will, my flesh sometimes panics under worldly pressure. Therefore, I must remind myself and listen to the reminding of others of what is true about God and his promises. If Jesus is preeminent above everything and his eternal kingdom, though not completely fulfilled yet, is expanding today, then I ought to be able to trust him and live differently than the world around me.
Instead of “thinking to myself” about ways to control and fix life, I will live in hopeful trust and obedience. Trust and faith affect how I deal with money, work, and relationships. Faith and trust will govern my emotions when doubt closes in on my soul like a San Francisco fog. By conviction and obedience, I will stand steadfast with hope, knowing that God is in control even if I can’t see it.
We can learn from Jeroboam, and I hope we will. We can encourage each other in our walk. We must encourage each other in the fight. We can get back up, repent, press into His grace, and then go forward when we doubt and fall.
Yes, if Jesus is preeminent and his promises are true, if this is so, then we can, and we must live differently. We must live as though this is all so. Though this may force us to make decisions that seem odd to the world around us, the life of trust will pay off, and God always keeps his word, even if not on our timetable.
So be encouraged, my friend; God is trustworthy. It is so!
by steve | Oct 7, 2022 | Kingdom Living
Honestly, his casual comment annoyed me. I’d expect that sort of quip from an angry atheist or, at best, an honest skeptic who was open to investigation. As we talked about God, the Christian life, and the Church, the man who had just come into my office for some advice blurted out, “The Bible has been translated so many times that you can’t know what God said.” This man is highly educated and trained as an engineer who understands the principle of research before drawing conclusions. But this man is not an atheist. He is a proclaimed Christian, and thus something was off here.
I started to engage him about his statement but quickly assessed that his mind was made up and was not open to other options than the one where he had comfortably arrived. So, I just left him in his quiet rant, knowing I could do no more. But if we’re intellectually honest, we must offer the same rigorous study of Biblical evidence as we do for every other area of exploration. The claims are either true or not. We cannot simply chuck them away with flippancy and still call ourselves serious thinkers.
But the issue is more than the integrity of the Bible; it is also the purpose of the Bible. The eternal transformation, wisdom, and life application for today are in the Bible. For years I have taught about the integrity of the Bible and how it applies to life. But yet, many Christians who intellectually would say they trust the Bible do not read it, or at least with any regularity. In thus neglecting the Bible, they miss out on God’s wisdom. I’ve observed that many questions that people often bring to me are ones they could have answered themselves if they had just systematically read their Bibles. Instead, their Bible sits quitely until it’s needed to prove or disprove a point they’ve already arrived at. In living this way, they miss out.
But the Bible is trustworthy and is practical for today and eternity. Therefore we should be in a regular rhythm of reading and meditating on the Bible. Greater still, we must read it. While there are more, here are six quick reasons why.
Textual Integrity. As I have taught numerous times and written about in the blog, there are solid, scholarly reasons to trust the Bible. In fact, there is more evidence for the veracity of the Bible than any other ancient literature. So we can know that it is reliable. One such post is here.
Availability of the Bible. In short, we CAN read it. I still remember the morning James walked into my dorm room years ago and yelled at me because I had laid my Bible on the floor next to my bed when I went to sleep the previous night. It’s no big deal, I thought. But then it was clear. James came from Southeast Asia, where finding a Bible is rare. Think of all the places on the globe today, like China, Saudi Arabia, or Cuba, where it is almost impossible to find a Bible. You will be imprisoned in some of these places if found with one. So I wonder if we take our Bibles for granted.
Obligation to the Past. We owe it to those who gave all that we might have the text in our native tongue. The New Testament was written in koine Greek, and the Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew with a few portions in Aramaic. Serious translations are taken from the original languages and not the latest translation. The connection here is that over the ages, many highly intelligent scholars took the time to find the oldest manuscripts possible, do the hard work, and translate the ancient sacred text into the world’s mother tongues. Early translators often did this at their own risk, as the authorities wanted to control who had a Bible. One illustration is William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for his work in 1536. I wonder if we’ve taken our Bibles for granted in considering the costs others paid that we might have the text in our language.
Answers for the Questions. We will find answers to give to those who ask. I’ve often heard Christians speak of fearing to share their faith because they may be unable to answer the questions. I get that, and quite honestly, we will never have it all figured out. However, the more time we spend in the Bible, the more we will be able to retain the Bible and give its blessings to others with questions.
Divine Connection. We will come to know God more. It’s like any other relationship. The more we spend time with people, the more we know them. The most significant way to spend time with God is to read His Word.
Life Application and Spiritual Formation. Reading the Bible will change us. The author of Hebrews, writing under divine inspiration, noted that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Maybe the last one is why this man chooses not to put much stock in the Bible. Yes, while the Bible will lead us to God, comfort, and guide us, it will also convict us of sin. In those moments when our spirit and conscience are convicted, we have two options or responses. One is to bow under the conviction, acknowledge and repent of our sin, and follow Christ anew. The other option is to try to eradicate the conviction. Thus, if the Bible convicts us, the easiest option is to attack the credibility of the Bible, and then one can continue to live in rebellion, having thought to secure control and lordship of their life.
Maybe that was the issue for the highly educated man who entered my office looking for advice. The problem wasn’t so much his not knowing the credibility of the Bible but rather his unwillingness to humble himself under the Bible. What about you? If you have a Bible, have you examined the evidence for the sacred text, and are you reading it regularly? What have been some transformative times in your life in connection to the Bible?
by steve | Sep 23, 2022 | Just Life, Kingdom Living
I’m back. Recently I finished a Summer Social Media Sabbatical and am returning to the blog. So how was the break, Steve? Well, I’m glad you asked. The first few weeks were hard. However, the disconnect soon became a healthy flow of life. Now, as I’m back in the regular rhythms, I’m finding that my distractions, especially seasons of getting hot and bothered by politics, have simmered down quite a bit. It’s freeing. I can focus more easily.
I know some are called to the political arena. In the Bible, we see this of Joseph in Genesis and of Daniel, the prophet. But I don’t believe I’m either equipped or called personally to politics. More importantly, this unplugged season reminded me of what I know internally; the Kingdom of God rules above the realms of humanity, and there will indeed be a day of reckoning.
The Kingdom of God? It’s something quite mysterious and profound. Indeed, it’s more than casual Christianity. Clearly, it is beyond a religion of mere sin management. It is infinitely more. Jesus used this terminology as a central building block in his teaching. Yes, he came deliberately to give his life as a ransom for many. However, his preeminent proclamation is a wholly transformed reality.
In his first public teaching, Jesus declared with authority: “The time has come the kingdom of God is at hand, Repent and Believe the Good News.” (Mark 1:15). The original grammar of that statement is in the perfect tense, implying something that has happened and is continuing to happen. The title, Kingdom of God, is used some 75 times in the New Testament with the highest concentration being in Luke, who wrote to Gentiles. The secondary term, the Kingdom of Heaven, is only used 34 times in the New Testament, with 31 of those occasions being in Matthew, who wrote to Hebrews, showing them that Jesus was the prophesized Messiah.
Is there more than a history lesson here? There is more than you can imagine. Yes, this mysterious Kingdom that Jesus spoke of is a present reality and a future hope. The Kingdom is not one of flesh and blood or the politics of Jerusalem. It is a current reality wherever his children work his will out today. In Luke 17:21, Jesus described it as being within you. There is also the reality of the future, fulfilled Kingdom of his second coming.
Beyond the reality of God’s will being executed by his people in the here and now, the Kingdom also demonstrates the truth that God is still moving in His sovereign providence above the affairs of humanity. Even this morning, in my regular Bible reading, I noted that “the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice” of the enemies of King David, and thus they failed to overthrow God’s plan. There is a mysterious ebb and flow of our free will and God’s providential path toward the fulfillment of everything. Daniel observes that God “deposes kings and raises up others” while Jesus confronted Pilate, who thought he had charge over him, that he “would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
There is hope because God is still on the throne today. Yes, on the one hand, I live as a responsible citizen, as Romans 13 teaches me. But, on the other, I know my higher allegiance is above, and it is from there that my ultimate redemption comes. This dual existence calls me to stand for Jesus regardless of what earthly and temporal authorities do. It also comforts me to know God will have the final say when the curtain of eternity falls upon all.
I am not the first in history to wrestle with this reality and often think of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was hung at Flossenbuerg concentration camp just a month before the conclusion of World War II in Europe. Scripture does teach us that we are to obey the laws of the land unless they specifically contradict God’s will. However, I am rarely forced to disobey God in the West and in America. While governance has and may oppose Christ, I am not prohibited from preaching Christ.
The answer is to remember what I say I believe. The call, above worldly citizenship, is living out the Kingdom of God in the here and now. While it’s easy to type this today, I know there will be occasions when I am tempted to lose focus. I may need the help and prayers of friends. I may need your help. But I know this Kingdom is true. That’s why I named this blog kingdomology back in 2009, and I hope this will be a challenge and encouragement to you as well.
Is this an area where you wrestle?
by steve | Jun 24, 2022 | Just Life, Kingdom Living
I was just under four years old in 1973 when the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe v Wade mandating the legality of abortion in all 50 states. Since that landmark decision, the American landscape and culture have witnessed over 63 million reported abortion cases. Yet, during that same time, countless followers of Christ have been praying and working to help women with unplanned pregnancies find a better option than the termination of their child. They have worked for hope.
Today the High Court has reversed this ruling. Since a politically motivated leak of the initial decision last month, we have experienced a tsunami of media outpouring and emotion. I, too, have had to sit with my thoughts and feelings and the surrounding ramifications. Yes, the emotions are high right now. But what are the simple facts when we take a deep breath and calm down to think through the issues rationally? One thing is clear; the ultimate answer is much deeper than the legal opinion of nine human judges. So while I could write a tome on today’s announcement, here are six quick truths below the media hype.
1. The Legal Truth.
Despite the avalanche of liberal media, the overturning of Roe v Wade will not outlaw abortion in the land but instead send the issue back to the states. I won’t get bogged down in legal discussion here as others who are more versed in this area have already done so, and those looking for honest research can find them.
2. The Scientific Truth.
The crux of the matter is defining the object of abortion. While many proponents of abortion will refer to the baby as a mere fetus, the basic science dictates that this is a human being. Several years ago, I came across the work of Dr. Jerome Lejeune of France, an expert in genetics. In 1959 he discovered the genetic cause of Downs Syndrome and was hailed for his work early on. However, once Dr. Legeune furthered the conclusions of his findings, that the logical progression is that life begins at conception, he began to experience a cold shoulder from his colleagues because of the implications of what abortion truly is. The simple reality is that the object of abortion is not the mere excising of tissue but the termination of a living human being. With advances in ultrasound technology and other science, the evidence is clear. This is life.
3. The Moral Truth.
If the science is evident in the data that this is life, we are forced to move into the moral category. What we know of God is that we are created in His image. David affirms that it was God that “formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV) Without trying to be harsh purposefully, the reality is that abortion is the taking of innocent life. The Biblical and legal term for this act is murder. I will unpack this a bit more in point 6 below. But part of the issue here is how our present culture looks at children and humanity in general. We no longer see people as being created in the image of God but rather as property to be arranged for convenience.
4. The Grace Truth.
Grace is something that I sorely need in my life and continue, and will always, praise God for his grace on me. Jesus died on the cross for my sin and rose again. I need HIS grace. We need to know that this same grace is available to women who have had abortions and to men who have been involved in decisions for abortion. David repented of his murder of Uriah to cover up the affair with Bathsheba and received grace and restoration. Paul repented of his murder of Stephen for preaching the gospel and not only received grace and restoration but a new call on his life.
5. The Hope Truth.
HOPE is the operative word here. One reason women go into an abortion clinic is that they feel cornered and without hope. But there is hope. There is hope for the baby and hope for the mother. Care-Net is one such ministry of hope that Debi and I, along with our local church, support regularly. It is one thing to speak against abortion. It is another to get involved in loving these women and their babies and helping them find hope and purpose at this unexpected fork in the road. This message of hope is not something new but found back in the early church and seen in the times of the Roman Empire when followers of Christ would rescue unwanted babies who were left in trash heaps.
6. The Heart Truth.
The mere changing of legal structures will not alter a nation’s makeup in the immediacy any more than Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, or the conclusion of the Civil War changed the hearts of racists in 1865. In short, slavery was abolished, but some white people still cursed black people and hated those who supported the freedom of blacks. In our present debate, the struggle is spiritual, as it was then and always will be at the root. It is a spiritual wrestling match to see that every human has value. But this reality is not easily seen by those with an atheistic and humanistic worldview who do not believe that these unborn children are human. The core cause for this blindness is a hard heart. Thus the real issue is one of a heart awakening and revival.
We need more than righteous laws of the land; we need the mending of broken hearts that can only come through Jesus Christ. In describing this eternal struggle, Jesus stated that: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Jesus has healed, changed, and continues to change my heart. That is the answer that I continue to pray toward. Yes, I believe that this is a good day in the ongoing history of the United States. However, I firmly believe that we must do more; we must acknowledge our sin and repent, walk in His grace, and love and pray for those who continue to see no evil in abortion. The answer is in Real Revival, which first begins in me and then spreads to the hearts of those around me.
by steve | Dec 31, 2021 | Just Life, Kingdom Living
One New Year’s challenge that I always look forward to is reading through the Bible beginning January first. Honestly, I don’t always get the whole text read in a year. Sometimes interruptions get in the way. On other occasions, I find God grabbing my attention to stop and meditate on one single verse in the day’s reading instead of pressing on with the rest of the text.
But I’ve found that a daily practice of systematically working through the Bible has been just as important spiritually as eating a healthy diet is for the physical. The objective is simply coming before the life-changing Word of God regularly and allowing HIM to change us.
In my vocation, it’s easy to check out and look at the Bible as a textbook. By this, I mean merely studying the content for sermon preparation, teaching, and the like. But, unfortunately, that’s probably not too far off for many of us. In other words, it’s easy to take it for granted. Yet somehow, we know there’s something different to this book. The Bible is still the number one selling book of all time. It is both mysterious and rational. It is known to change even the hardest of hearts and bring purpose, clarity, and hope for those honestly seeking answers.
I know; some have argued against or wondered about the validity of the Bible. On the surface, that is a good question. To that, I have written in places such as here on the reliability of the text. So, yes, there are indeed rational reasons to trust the Bible and learn from it today for those honestly seeking truth.
Therefore, the challenge that I’m passing along to you is to pick up the Old Book in the New Year and dive in. Don’t worry if you miss a day or can only grab a few verses on another. Just pick it up again the next day at the scheduled reading spot. No, you may not end up having read every single word of the text in 2022. But if you are not at least setting a road map, you’ll never travel anywhere. It’s not about legalism anyway. The purpose is not more religious points scored with God but instead preparing the heart for Him to speak into your life and the lives of His people, the church.
I have often remembered a quote attributed to the 19th century English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, who supposedly said, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” I like that regardless of who said it. It conveys that the Word of God is powerful and will indeed transform your life today. There are several good online plans to read the Bible through in a year. This is the one that I use and here are other options.
As for me going into 2022, I’m in. What about you?